Dubuque and other communities improve infrastructure for future natural disasters


Nick Fetty | September 8, 2014
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city of Dubuque erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)

Heavy rains and flash flooding has caused Dubuque to be declared a presidential disaster area on six different occasions in the last 16 years and climate change is expected to continue contributing to these problems. Dubuque and other cities across the country are attempting to be better prepared for future disastrous events through more efficient infrastructure, however local governments have been struggling to fund these projects.

Dubuque’s Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project aims to protect part of the “city’s most developed areas where over 50% of Dubuque residents either live or work.” The $179 million project is divided into 12 phases and is expected to begin as early as fall 2015 and be completed by 2016.  The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board awarded the city of Dubuque $98.5 million for the project in December 2013. The money was awarded in the form of state sales tax increment financing which will be spread across 20 years. The City has raised an additional $30 million but still needs nearly $50 million more to cover the entire cost of the project.

The project will both reduce the volume and slow the rate of stormwater in the upper watershed, provide safer conveyance of stormwater in flood-conducive areas, and protect the City’s wastewater treatment plant from stormwater. Additionally, the project will expand upon the area’s trail system and connect Dubuque with East Dubuque on the Wisconsin side.

Aspects of climate change have contributed to natural disasters from California to Florida to New York. Along with Dubuque, local governments in Norfolk (Virginia), Miami Beach (Florida), and New York City have also built infrastructure designed to withstand natural disasters in those regions.

Endangered mussel may be making a comeback in the Iowa River


The Higgins' eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year's Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)
The Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year’s Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)

After a week of scouring along the Iowa River, researchers and volunteers from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources made promising findings regarding Iowa River’s mussel population, a critical indicator of the waterway’s aquatic health.

The experts found 20 different species during the 2014 Mussel Blitz, an annual research project to assess the health and diversity of Iowa’s mussels. Among them was the Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was reintroduced to the river in 2003 by stocking fish with young specimens, at the time just the size of a grain of salt. Researchers found six adult Higgins’ eyes in the Iowa River during the Mussel Blitz, indicating that the species was able to mature in the waterway.

While mussels thrived in Iowa waterways for centuries, most have faced heavy setbacks due to damming, fluctuations in water levels and chemicals in the water. 43% of North America’s 300 mussel species are in danger of extinction, including 78 endangered or threatened species in the Midwest.

Since their primary threats are sedimentation and pollutants, mussels are important to Iowa’s waterways as indicators of aquatic health. Reproducing populations of mussels indicate good water quality and wildlife diversity, and mussels help purify the aquatic system by acting as natural filters. They’re also an important food source for otters, herons and some fish.

On the Radio: Iowa lakes undergo restoration projects


A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)
A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment highlights the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing lake restoration program. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Iowa Lake Restoration Program

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is cleaning dozens of Iowa lakes this summer as part of its ongoing lake restoration program.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa DNR has selected 35 Iowa lakes and watersheds for restoration with the goals of improved water quality, a balanced aquatic community and improved fishing and swimming. Their 2013 report states that many Iowa lakes suffer from excessive algol growth and sedimentation.

The DNR plans to work with local towns and watershed groups to develop action plans, including marsh rehabilitation, wetland reconstruction and lake dredging. Similar projects at Clear Lake, Storm Lake and Lake MacBride have enhanced recreation opportunities, putting them in the top five most visited lakes in the state.

For more information about the Iowa lake restoration program, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

County supervisors: Coralville lake plan is out of date


Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr
Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr

According to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Coralville Lake’s management plan is in need of an update. They have requested funding from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to research and write a new plan.

The reservoir’s current plan has been in place since 1995, and the Supervisors say that it does not account for new conditions due to climate change. Ideally, local Corps officials would be able to make decisions about water levels without having to wait for federal approval. The discretion to make such decisions without waiting for bureaucracy might have prevented some of the damage done by the flood events of the last decade.

The County Supervisors rely heavily on information provided by the University of Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which monitors local flood conditions. If the management plan is successfully rewritten, the Supervisors could act quickly on IFC information during any future flood situation, and more efficiently handle an emergency situation.

Iowa fields are eroding at an unsustainable rate, study says


Agricultural runoff in Iowa (Lynn Betts/Flickr)
Agricultural runoff in Iowa (Lynn Betts/Flickr)

The rate of soil runoff from Iowa fields may be many times higher than previous estimates, according to a recent study.

The report, released by Environmental Working Group, shows that Iowa fields are eroding at unacceptable rates, depleting Iowa’s rich topsoil and sending sediment and chemicals into streams and rivers. Between 2002 and 2010, many fields consistently lost more than the sustainable rate of five tons of soil per acre from storms and other erosion events. A single storm in May of 2007 eroded up to 100 tons of soil per acre.

Much of the soil is carried away by gullies that are increasingly appearing in Iowa fields. These low channels are a telltale sign of high erosion, and are often refilled with soil only to be emptied again with the next storm.

High erosion creates high agricultural and environmental risks by carrying away Iowa’s rich topsoil and by polluting waterways with sediment and chemicals. An effective means of curbing this is to plant grass and trees along the edges of fields and in areas where gullies are likely to form. A series of buffers implemented in various fields reduced sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus by more than 90 percent in 2009.

Video highlights Iowa farmer challenged by weather extremes


Wet fields in Centerville, Iowa. (David Morris/Flickr)
Wet fields in Centerville, Iowa. (David Morris/Flickr)

Extreme weather is taking a toll on Corning, Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser, as seen in a recent video produced by documentary organization The Story Group.

Gaesser, who has been farming for over 45 years, said extreme weather has become more common over the last ten years, during which his costs of growing crops have gone up almost five times. Among the added expenses were new machinery and costly soil infrastructure investments.

The extreme weather also means lost time for farmers in Iowa, where heavy rain in June and July reduced suitable fieldwork days to less than two per week in some parts of the state, making it more difficult for farmers like Gaesser to maintain their crops.

According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, human-induced global warming is responsible for the increased number and strength of extreme weather events like heavy downpours. These increases are attributed to warmer air, which can hold more water vapor than cooler air. The greatest increase in heavy rain has been seen in the Northeast and Midwest.

With the National Climate Assessment predicting an increase in climate disruptions to agricultural production over the next 25 years, farmers like Gaesser will need to further adapt to lost days in the field and added stresses like crop disease and soil erosion. These adaptation measures will be necessary to prevent serious consequences for food security in the United States.

Rainfall slowing fieldwork and crop progress in Iowa


Rain falling on a field near Mr. Vernon. Rich Herrmann/Flickr
Rain falling on a field near Mr. Vernon. Rich Herrmann/Flickr

A third consecutive week of above-average rainfall across the state limited farmers’ fieldwork and put added stress on crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Iowa Crop Progress & Condition report for the week.

There were just 2.6 days suitable for fieldwork statewide between June 30 and July 6, the third straight week with less than three days for farmers to be in their fields. That number reached as low as 1.4 days in central Iowa. Wet conditions prevented equipment from getting into fields, setting back weed control and slowing alfalfa hay baling.

The rain has also put some crops behind schedule, with oats turning color and soybeans blooming ahead of last year but at below average rates.

Fortunately, most Iowa fields have remained stable, with 76% of corn and 73% of soybean crops listed in good to excellent condition. Warm and dry weather will be needed to get crops back on schedule, yet more precipitation in the forecast may present continued challenges to Iowa farmers.